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Happy Black and African American History Month from VEI!

Happy Black and African American History Month from VEI! To celebrate here at VEI, we sat down with Dr. Schneider to ask about her work at VEI, her heritage, and notable moments in Black and African American history.

Dr. Crystan Schneider is a comprehensive ophthalmologist. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where she also received her medical degree from the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Dr. Schneider completed her residency in ophthalmology at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, where she was Chief Resident.
Dr. Schneider did a research fellowship for one year at Duke University where she became an inventor of a patented biomaterial.

1. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments, sacrifices and traditions of the African-American community. It is also an opportunity to educate about the contribution of African Americans to our country and society as a whole in a way that is inclusive to all people.

2. Can you tell us about a role model who has inspired you?

My greatest role models are now and have always been my parents. They met and fell in love in Jackson, Mississippi during the time of segregation and the beginning of the civil rights movement. They married and moved to Virginia where my mother studied to get her Master’s Degree in Education. My father had already completed his Master’s Degree in mathematics/engineering and was working in the military and hoping to begin the PhD program at George Washington University. My mom often tells the story of being young students newly married and needing more money to complete her education and having to decide which of them would go on to complete their course of study. My maternal grandmother who was very poor in Mississippi and was heavily reliant upon military benefits from my maternal grandfather (an injured veteran) offered to help supplement their income and pay for my mother to get her advanced degree at great personal cost to herself rather than have my mother not complete her education. Fortunately, they were able to scrape together the funds and so she didn’t have to make that sacrifice ultimately but this experience left an indelible imprint on me as a child and now as an adult about the importance and life changing power of education. My parents were always supportive of me academically and instilled in me a lifelong appreciation for knowledge.

3. What makes you proud of your heritage?

My great grandfather (paternal) was an entrepreneur in the Jim Crow south in Jackson, MS. He had an eighth-grade education and won a camera in a contest, he turned that win into a thriving business photographing black life in his town. We have many images saved today that depict what life was like for blacks during that time period. My paternal grandfather was an episcopal priest and colonel in the army and my paternal grandmother a teacher. They lived their lives with immense dignity during a time of considerable strife and segregation. I am proud of the resilience of not only my own family but of all families that have persevered and excelled despite adverse conditions.

4. What is a notable moment of African American History that you would like to share?

A notable moment of African American History occurred in the year 2000 when Robert Copeland Jr, MD lobbied to make ophthalmology a stand-alone department at Howard University Hospital instead of a subdivision of the department of surgery. During his time as department chair, he advocated for equality in healthcare and had as one of his core missions to make healthcare available to underserved communities both internationally and here in America. Dr. Copeland had immense discipline and a tremendous work ethic which he instilled in each and every person he mentored or taught. He would surely have contributed even more to the field of ophthalmology had his life not been tragically cut short on April 11, 2016. He had a larger than life personality, a booming laugh and a wonderful sense of humor to compliment his sense of discipline and duty to the African American community and underserved communities he encountered on his many travels.

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